Saying Yes, Sometimes

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 04, 2021

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeThe condemnations came fast and furious. U.S. actor Michael B. Jordan, it seems, was farse and outaplace to name his new rum J’Ouvert and equally outatiming to set the label of his product on a box that included “a schematic of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, plus a written reference to Trinidad and to J’Ouvert as a local celebration of emancipation and carnival” (Newsday, June 21).

One Trini woman mused: “We look for that. This is what happens when we are constantly ambivalent about our culture, largely ignore its historical, spiritual and ideological significance” (Newsday, June 21).

Sinkglo Nafro, YouTube influencer, objected in stronger language: “It’s cultural appropriation because Michael B. Jordan is an African American man. He is not a Trinidadian man, he is not a West Indian man. The West Indian culture is not his culture, so why is he using J’ouvert? So [he] could have come up with so many different words that would celebrate the African American community” (Express, June 20).

Most of the people who condemned Jordan for naming his rum J’Ouvert acted as though Trinis have an exclusive right to that name. Justine Koo, intellectual property specialist at the University of the West Indies, pointed out: “In relation to the J’Ouvert rum trademark application, if that is granted all that it means is that in the context of the United States of America where the trademark was filed no one else can sell rum or any confusingly similar product under the name J’Ouvert” (Newsday, June 21).

Jordan was the font of generosity in the face of criticism. He responded: “I just wanna say on behalf of myself & my partners, our intention was never to offend or hurt a culture (we love & respect) & hoped to celebrate and shine a positive light on it. Last few days has been a lot of listening. A lot of learning and engaging in countless community conversations.

“We hear you. I hear you & want to be clear that we are in the process of renaming. We sincerely apologize & look forward to introducing a brand we can all be proud of.”

In retrospect, I couldn’t help but ask, who really won in this encounter or was ours simply a kneejerk response to a newfangled formulation (“cultural appropriation”) and colonialist politricks of inter-racial division? Could we not have used this opportunity to think of our society in a much more culturally critical manner and thereby promote/market our society abroad in a positive light?

An early description of the product read: “Derived from the Antillean Creole French term meaning ‘daybreak,’ J’OUVERT originated in the pre-dawn streets of Trinidad, as celebrations of emancipation combined with Carnival season to serve as the festival’s informal commencements. Crafted on those same islands, J’OUVERT Rum is a tribute to the ‘party start'” (Los Angeles Times, April 29).

This was a promising start. It recognized the Trinidad origin of the term and how it emerged. Given his interest, my internationalist perspective forced me to examine how best we could team up with Jordan to promote the cultural richness of our island.

Black Panther made Jordan an instant celebrity. It was a movie that every black person wanted to see. Some of my colleagues saw it as many as five times. The film sold more than 1 billion dollars in global ticket sales and was the highest grossing film for Marvel studios. Plans are afoot to make a Black Panther 2. Here was an opportunity for us to associate ourselves with the growing popularity of this movement.

While celebrities appropriate aspects of foreign cultures, all appropriations are not necessarily bad things. Taking Jordan at his word, we could have welcomed his choice of name and invited him to launch his product in T&T. We could have engaged in serious discussions with him about how he could promote our cultural products. Jerome Lewis, a dear friend, suggests: “This would have been the right time for us to display our talent and cultural identities. We could have promoted our Angostura brand of products, Peter Minshall’s Tan Tan & Saga Boy, and many of the other contributions that our multicultural society has given to the world.”

Meanwhile our economy continues to stagnate. The IMF estimated that our real GDP “contracted by 7.8 percent in 2020 and projects a moderate economic recovery of real GDP growth averaging about 2.2 percent over 2021-2025.” There will not be “any significant increase in energy output,” and the tourism sector, like most countries, will take some time to recover (IDB Quarterly Bulletin, May 2021).

Our problem is not how much we have but how we promote the interesting things that we do have. Interestingly, the Jamaica tourist sector earned over 1 billion dollars (US) in foreign exchange over the last six months. Jordan was offering something (his immense international image and prestige) that we cannot pay for. His association with us would have increased our tourist potential immensely.

For those who are always fond of saying nay, I wonder if it would have been better if we had said yea and see how we could have leveraged this wonderful opportunity and let the appropriation of this particular cultural item in our history work for us. Doesn’t innovation and critical thinking consist of taking advantage of possibilities that arise in the course of our daily lives?

All is not lost though. It might be a good gesture for Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, in her effort to promote T&T’s tourism, to invite Jordan to T&T, show him some of our cultural wonders, and ask how he can work with us to promote our twin islands to foreign visitors.

8 thoughts on “Saying Yes, Sometimes”

  1. Young Mr. Manning addressed it quite admirably..

    And yuh have to wonder… As the vaccines are showing signs of failing (43% of those who died from Delta in the UK, were ‘fully vaccinated’), and as Dr. W.H.O. shows his/her ‘biases’, it is only a matter of time before the Michael B. Jordans’ of the world throw their star power behind these Covid Medications that are gaining State approval in Africa. if not for the human cause… but the financial reward… well.

    Uganda joined Madagascar with, well.–CMK0

  2. Meanwhile our economy continues to stagnate. The IMF estimated that our real GDP “contracted by 7.8 percent in 2020 and projects a moderate economic recovery of real GDP growth averaging about 2.2 percent over 2021-2025.” ……..

    The Rowley regime is set to introduce property tax at a time when 103,000 is on the bread line. Rowley said he was not closing Petrotrin, he went ahead with the blessings of Roget and closed the National patrimony. Kamla had offered Roget 15% but he accepted Rowley 5% and then Rowley put a headlock on him. Not knowing what to do he gathered his band of loyal lackeys and knelt in prayer at the PM office.

    The Chinese have built one of the biggest embassies in Trinidad.
    And so the sellout to China has begun…
    Finance Minister Colm Imbert says the Government opted to accept a $1.4 billion loan from China as it had fewer conditions attached to it as opposed to one from the Washington DC-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).Express. May 11th 2021.
    Rowley has sold out TnT to China.
    The PNM addiction to borrowing….Feb 2020

    There is basically no future economically for Trinidad. Tobago can go it alone, they get $95,000 per citizen compared to $35,000 per citizen in Trinidad from the empty treasury. In 2005 the auditor found a billion missing from the money transferred toTobago. If I lose a hundred dollars I can’t sleep. How could a nation lose a billion dollars and its business as usual.

    Chinese take over of Zambia “
    Zambia’s external debt, currently estimated at 35% of its GDP, has soared: according to official figures it reached nearly $10bn in 2018, up from $1.9bn in 2011. As southern Africa’s third-largest economy and Africa’s second-largest producer of copper, Zambia is a textbook case of the Chinese debt trap that affects 15 African countries, including Djibouti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

    Chinese takeover of Africa.

    The Chinese know that TnT Africana PM is a fool and it’s just a matter of time before he give Trinidad fully over to them. Watch the Chinese take over WASA, T&TEC and other fledging state enterprises. They have the Casino, Vene girls, restaurants and groceries in their grip already.

    In all of this expect Birdee, inconvenient, Kian and Yoruba to rant and rave against Kamla. These four PNM donkeys are brain dead to the realities in this nation.

    1. Well, I won’t dedicate much of my time to what Forbes and dem have to say bout China and Africa.. China and Africa have had relations going back over 1000 years.. and, Eugene Chen (who rest with the fathers of modern China) is from Sando, like me.. He walked down ‘The Coffee’, like me, he sat by Coffee EC, like me… Seems the Chineses know and acknowledge him more than ‘we’.. Trini and China has a special relationship.. and The Ducktah can’t harness this relationship to the fullest..
      The brother is too AngloSaxon (if I got that right, IT?)..

      Yuh have to be a real AngloSaxon (if I got that right, IT).. to read that Madagascar is reporting 0, yes Zero Covid death today, after defeating the SA variant.. and he just doh give a ssshhhip..Stuppes…That motorcade just can’t come fast enough..

    2. “The Rowley regime is set to introduce property tax at a time when 103,000 is on the bread line.”
      Mamoo, as usual you are terribly misguided. Tell me which country in the world except Kamla’s Trinidad and Tobago that does not pay property taxes?
      I’d rather pay my taxes and have it recorded than allowing scam lawyers viewing property records to see who is deceased with the view of stealing properties. You would rather have Ramdeen and Ramlogan be such scammers than allow the government (who provides the utilities you need to live) get the taxes to provide you with roads and healthcare needs.

      1. I like your attitude “I had rather pay my property tax…” as usual being a Rowley apologist. My friend it is nice that you outline the use of property tax most noble of you. That is how it works wherever it is collected. However, that is not how it will work in TnT.

        Rowley was insisting that the property tax stay where it is collected. He even said he will mark every dollar. Along comes Finance Minister Imbert and said all that money going in the General Fund. Boom.
        Why because they borrowing and borrowing sending the deficit to over $125 billion. Where are they going to get money to service these billion dollar loans????

        So you go ahead and join the line to pay your property tax but please don’t expect your road to be smooth………. And keep voting PNM because they great.

    As the blunt instrument of increased taxation at the pump a place Rowley and his stooges seem to like, Trinis will again say it’s a lil increase no problem. As one PNM supporter proudly boasted on Facebook that she is prepared to eat Rowley shyt rather than support the UNC. He is dishing out some heavy ones for her and the balisier brigade.

    If ever there is any doubt as soon as the borders open up, head up to North America or Guyana until the plague passes. Property tax, fuel tax, whilst the balisier brigade dine sumptuously at your expense. The purpose of government is to bring the good life to the people they serve, not turn them into paupers. This regime has borrowed, borrowed and continue to burrow to pay government wages and to service the ever increasing debt….

  4. “Our problem is not how much we have but how we promote the interesting things that we do have. Interestingly, the Jamaica tourist sector earned over 1 billion dollars (US) in foreign exchange over the last six months. Jordan was offering something (his immense international image and prestige) that we cannot pay for. His association with us would have increased our tourist potential immensely.…….”

    The tourism sector under the PNM declined sharply. There is a simple reason, PNM and tourism just don’t go together. When Williams said “massa day done”. He did not envision black folks serving the white tourists coming to the island. So the immense potential was was dealt a blunt force blow. We see the same thing happened under Rowley the failed sea bridge with 25% of Tobago businesses going under. Having been to Tobago in 2019 I must say I was terribly disappointed. We were charged peak rate only to find the hotel almost empty with some Indo Trinis from south. Many of them coming for a sort of family reunion/gathering.

    Jamaica is not the best tourist destination, yet they have managed to attract more and more tourist over the years.
    Tobago developed a bad reputation because of crime on the island. The Englishman who was slashed across the face became the poster boy and reason not to come to Tobago.

    Trinidad saw some development under the UNC in the area of tourism, with beaches being upgraded and change areas nice and clean. I remember visiting Clifton hill beach area and finding a place to change for a few dollars. Little things like that make the experience worthwhile.

    Having visited several nations, the hospitality industry is something that these nations put some effort into. The money is great tourist usually tip everyone. When I visited mexico, the Rue Hotel made it clear we did not have to tip, but the service was great and on the last day I made sure and put my hands under the table and tipped our server. In Cuba the tips were expected if you didn’t they did not give you the attention. Castro takes a portion of the tips and use it for health care. During one of our trips there the host paid a lot of attention to a European couple. He spoke 4 languages. At the end of the journey these cheap Europeans smiled and walked away, you could see the host literally took a gulp…

    There are a lot of Trinis in Canada and US who would love to return from time to time. They can be the best investors on the island if these tourist site become a better reality.

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